Analysing user research

How to understand your user research and use insights to build a service that works well for the people who use it

User research activities produce a lot of raw data. Filtering and organising this data will help you to produce meaningful insights. For example, you may have: 

  • written and digital notes 
  • sketches and photos 
  • audio and video recordings.

Who to involve 

We recommend inviting everyone on your team to the research analysis.

When everyone has a chance to be part of the decision, you reduce the risk of researcher bias and limit the individual influence of team members or stakeholders. At a minimum, invite anyone who observed the user research. 

When to analyse 

You should aim to do analysis as soon as you can after each round of research, while it is still fresh in people’s minds. For every hour of research, aim to spend up to 1 to 2 hours analysing findings. 

Extract observations 

To extract observations, ask the group to review research notes or recordings. From there, the group should: 

  • use a single sticky note to write each observation  
  • provide details of exactly what is said or seen, his should be an unbiased representation of the user, not what they think it means.  
If your team is experienced and you’re doing research in a lab, they may be able to capture observations and statements on sticky notes during the session itself. 

Sort observations 

When you’re ready, ask your team to place their observations on a wall or virtual canvas. As a group you will work to sort your observations into similar themes.  

The idea is to look for patterns or clusters in the data by grouping the information until clear themes emerge. You can group by: 

  • common topics, for example identity, delivery, payment 
  • stages in a user journey, for example ‘supply photo’, ‘attend interview’, ‘pay’ 
  • individual pages or steps in a transaction 
  • types of users, for example, first time user, business user. 
In some cases, notes may be relevant to more than 1 cluster. You should allow people to move or duplicate notes placed by others. This is called ‘affinity mapping’.

Name your groups 

Once you’ve sorted your observations, agree on a title that represents the cluster. From there, you can break large groups into smaller themes by matching observations. 

For example, if users need to supply a photo to use your service, you might have a ‘photos’ group that could broken down into: 

  • photo rules and requirements 
  • using a photo booth or store photographer 
  • taking a photo at home 
  • reasons a photo might be rejected. 

Determine findings 

The final part of the analysis is determining what the observations mean. When you agree on what you’ve learned, write it as a finding or insight and add it to the relevant group on your affinity map. Write findings as short statements that summarise what you’ve learned, for example: 

  • ‘the legal declaration is threatening and difficult to understand’ 
  • ‘people think they can click the progress bar to navigate’ 
  • ‘users are confused about what they need to do because so many questions are optional’.

Confirm the actions 

Use your findings to make decisions about what to work on or change. This supports the agile method of continuous planning with new facts or requirements. As a group, discuss if there are any actions you want to take. Write these on sticky notes in another colour. Add them to the relevant group on your affinity map.  
Actions might include: 

  • new design ideas to work on 
  • new questions to include in user research 
  • things you want to change in a prototype and test in another research session 
  • new user stories to add to the product backlog 
  • new details you need to add to an existing story 
  • strategic insights you can use to develop your user needs, proposition or product roadmap. 

Share your findings 

Collate your findings so you can share them with the wider team and stakeholders. This is sometimes called a shareback.

You can share insights in different ways. If you've been testing prototypes you might show printouts with comments on sticky notes. If you've only just started, you might read out quotes and observations.

Use an electronic presentation to share your findings or whatever medium suits your team.